Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's just the luck of the draw, but there's a real dearth of rookies scheduled to run a full season in the Cup, this year. There's only two. Yeah, there are a few others with partial rides, but those will in no way really challenge for a win, much less the title. So, let's focus on the two newbies (and one old newbie).
Well, not really a rookie, but Mark's going to come out of semi-retirement to make one last push for the title. With three consecutive titles in Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) might give the perennial bridesmaid his final shot at the elusive Sprint Cup title. Kyle Busch found moderate success as the driver of HMS's #5, but last year, Casey Mears struggled as he watched the spotlight clearly favor the 48, 24, and 88; huge money making stars for the sport. With Martin on board in 2009, HMS clearly boasts the highest profile stable in NASCAR (as I pointed out yesterday). Whether or not Martin can challenge for the title is the real question. But to watch Mark zip around the garage, either he just got his last mega shipment of Viagra or he's more excited than Rusty with a bucket full of Chicken from Bojangles. Mark's going to be good this year . . . very good!
Taking over for Tony Stewart is no small task, but from the way people are talking around the garage, this kid's the next coming of Jesus, Buddha, Dale Earnhardt and President Obama all in one. He'll be the youngest driver to ever start the 500, but to look at his stats in the Nationwide series this past year, you'd never know it. In just 19 starts, Joey's racked up 1 win, 3 poles, 5 top 5's, and 14 top 10's. Not too shabby for some baby-faced yankee. He's going to need to vastly improve on his past 3 Cup starts, though. In three tries, baby-face hasn't started higher than 28th, and hasn't finished better than 32nd. He's got some growing to do, but Rusty's pretty sure he'll get the job done. 2009 Rookie of the year, right here, ladies and gents.
I'm sure there's some Abbot and Costello joke here somewhere . . . "who's in the car?", "speed", "yeah, I know he's fast, but who's driving?", "speed." Scott partially took over for A.J. Allmendinger in the 82 Red Bull Toyota mid-season last year, after coming over from Formula One. This year, he's going to run full time, no longer splitting duty with Mike Skinner. He's still adjusting to driving stock cars, but it looks like he's already finding some speed at Daytona. He's 28th on the speed charts and was able to pull together the 17th fastest qualifying lap. With the way cars run in a pack at Daytona, this could bode well for Speed. What doesn't bode well is his inexperience in NASCAR. I could of sworn I overheard him this morning trying to get Bill Elliot to eat some crepes. The good news is that I'm pretty sure Speed will finish 2nd in the Rookie of the Year standings, the bad news is, there's only 2 contenders.
Tomorrow: Rusty Picks a Champ